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How Behavioral Interviewing Can Help You Hire Top Performers

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When we speak of the most successful companies we often talk about their products, their marketing and branding efforts or, most commonly, their financial performance. But while a business' success is defined by achieving strong results in these areas, looking only at the outward-facing measures of accomplishment doesn't tell the whole story. After all, the highest-achieving companies don't start at the top - they had to get there first.

The most reliable predictor of business success

Harvard Business Review wrote that the companies that outperform their competition and rise to become the cream of the crop all have one thing in common: They have a high concentration of top-performing employees. A company can only go as far as its talent pool can take it and stellar results in the aforementioned areas often come naturally when an enterprise has high-performing employees and management at the helm.

"The most reliable predictor of whether a business will rise to the top or sink to the bottom is its concentration of top performers in their ranks driving results in all functional areas."

HBR uses a metric called human capital productivity (HCP) to determine the overall skill level of a company's employees. They found that a higher HCP strongly correlated with strong financial performance. Obviously, there is a lot more to a business' success than just its employees' talent level, but the fact remains that the most reliable predictor of whether a business will rise to the top or sink to the bottom is its concentration of top performers in their ranks driving results in all functional areas.

The question is, then,  how do you find these top performers for your business?

How behavioral interviewing changed Google's hiring practices

Just as some businesses are more successful than others, some job candidates are head and shoulders above the rest. If you want to maximize your business' chances of outdoing the competition, you'll want as many of these on board as possible.

Google is well-known for a lot of reasons, but perhaps none of them are quite as notable as the company's near-fanatical devotion for testing everything. There is no part of Google's operation that hasn't been relentlessly analyzed and fine-tuned, and this dedication to perfection has driven clear results. A few years ago, Google trained its critical eye on its hiring process, and what it found surprised even its own executives.

In an interview with The New York Times, Google's VP of people operations, Laszlo Bock took a big data approach to analyzing Google's hiring process. He looked at tens of thousands of interviews, noting how the candidate performed in the interview and how they went on to perform at their job once they were hired. Bock found no correlation between interview scores and job performance.

Behavioral interviewing can be an effective tool for identifying top performers.

This was displeasing for Bock - it showed that they really had no systematic way for getting the best candidates to fill their open positions. He looked at how people were interviewed and realized that much of Google's interview process was actually a waste of time. Things like brainteasers and other questions that formed the bulk of Google's interviews had no predictive power when it came to future employee job success.

Thankfully, Bock was able to hone in on one interviewing technique that brought more top performers on board than any other: Behavioral interviewing. Rather than asking questions in a scattershot approach, Bock said that behavioral interviewing gives interviewers a consistent rubric by which they can assess the strength of a candidate.

Behavioral interviews are actually a straightforward process, despite the depth they go into. In essence, you're asking the candidate about their behavior in past job situations. The key here is that you're finding out what actual skills the candidate has and examples of times they used those skills to solve a real problem. In this way, you're not relying on hypotheticals, which are largely useless in light of what Bock found at Google.

"The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable "meta" information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult," Bock said.

As an interviewer, you can use this technique to dive deep into a candidate's history and find out who's done truly great work. Very often, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, meaning the behavioral interview could be your crystal ball when it comes time to hire the best in the business.